Center Spotlight: Holly Samuelson

Holly Samuelson gives a presentation.

How do we protect vulnerable populations from the negative health impacts of high heat in buildings? How can architectural design save energy at times when it is difficult to produce clean energy? How can an expanded cost-benefit analysis better inform sustainable building design decisions?

These are just a few of the research questions that Holly Samuelson, Associate Professor of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, strives to understand. As a core faculty researcher for the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities, Samuelson is already heading in the direction of these answers.

“Architectural design elements can impact the timing of energy demand, and these can be relatively large shifts,” Samuelson said. “These elements, such as window design and shading, could be untapped resources for helping to align clean energy supply and demand.”

Samuelson grew up in a steel mill town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, spending a few weeks per year in her grandparents’ paper mill town. “Growing up, I saw and smelled firsthand some of the environmental impacts of human activities – the industrial accidents, the acrid odors, the visible pollution,” said Samuelson. “This early interest in environmental issues, as well as my interests in both science and art, drew me to architecture as a field.” Though she originally pursued the sciences, Samuelson ultimately received her Bachelor of Architecture with honors from Carnegie Mellon University.

Before coming to Harvard, Samuelson practiced full-time as an architect and sustainable design consultant. After earning her Doctor of Design and Master of Design with distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Samuelson became an Associate Professor of Architecture. Now, Samuelson’s daily life includes teaching courses, researching with collaborators, writing manuscripts for publication, advising master’s and doctoral students, and occasionally attending conferences. After 10 years of teaching at Harvard, Samuelson finds the most rewarding part of her work to be interacting with students.

Holly Samuelson and her daughters at hockey practice.

“Harvard students are so inspiring,” Samuelson said. “They’re curious, hardworking, and proactive. I find it incredibly rewarding to work in teams, but I particularly enjoy when these collaborations include postdoctoral fellows, students, and younger researchers.”

Though Samuelson spends much of her time tackling environmental issues through the lens of architectural design, she is also a mother to three girls. With her daughters, Samuelson can be found playing ice hockey, “glamping,” or walking the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI. Above all, Samuelson remains committed to her field and passionate about her work.

“I’m heartened by some of laws and incentives that have been passed at the federal and state levels and in various cities around the U.S. Low carbon architecture is an important field, and it’s growing quickly,” Samuelson said. “I’m passionate about teaching our future leaders and about the impact that they can have on climate change.”


Holly Samuelson has published several papers, including “Co-benefits of Energy Efficiency in Residential Buildings” and “Exceedance Degree-Hours: A new method for assessing long-term thermal conditions,” which can be viewed on our Publications page.